When Elegant Variation Makes Sense

A client recently asked me to edit a document about sales figures. One of the first things that stood out was the repeated use of the words “increase” and “decrease.”

What a letdown, especially with a subject like numbers, where the writing can quickly get repetitive. One of the great virtues of English is that it’s brimming with synonyms.

To be sure, you don’t want to succumb to what Fowler called “elegant variation” — unnecessarily swapping out a perfectly good word (like “said”) for another (“uttered”) solely to avoid repetition. But you do want to take advantage of the different meanings between, say, “decrease” and “plunge,” between “increase” and “skyrocket.”

Here’s a quick list of alternatives:

Decrease
call
crater
drop
plunge
slip
tumble

Increase
balloon
grow
jump
rise
shoot up
soar
spike

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